Bickering between Sony and Comcast at the FCC is escalating, as the 2 duke it out over whether some low-end digital set-tops should be exempt from a July 1, 2007, deadline requiring all new boxes deployed to have a CableCARD or a removable conditional access system. Comcast wants the waiver so it can provide a low-cost way for consumers with analog sets to continue to receive cable services after the ’09 DTV transition. CEA and NCTA are backing Sony and Comcast, respectively (all cable operators would benefit from the waiver if approved). Investment firm Stifel Nicolaus has predicted a ruling on the request coming as early as this month. Sony execs met with FCC chmn Kevin Martin and his staff on Aug 3 to make their case against granting the request, according to FCC filings. A chief Sony concern is that the described downloadable security regime will harm the retail market for cable-compatible devices. It’s also arguing that boxes waived should not have 2-way functionality (including EPGs). Comcast filed a letter with the FCC Wed, blasting some of Sony’s claims as "rife with errors, mischaracterizations and misstatements." Comcast says low-end, 1-way digital set-tops don’t exist and that limiting a waiver to such "would deny millions of cable consumers cost-effective access to VOD, EPGs, family tiers of programming and other digital services." It also hammered Sony’s claims that low-end devices offer competitive opportunities. "The simple fact is that neither Sony nor any other CE manufacturer or retailer has shown any interest in a low-end cable-ready product for retail," Comcast said.